The founder of the Oath Keepers is guilty of sedition in the plot to attack the Capitol

WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (Reuters) – Oath Keepers founder Stuart Rhodes and another leader of the right-wing group were found guilty on Tuesday of a seditious conspiracy to attack the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump, a major victory for the Justice Department.

The convictions against Rhodes and four co-accusedafter three days of deliberations by the 12-member jury, came in the most high-profile trial yet to emerge from the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a failed attempt to flip over then-President Trump’s 2020 election defeat.

Rhodes, a former paratrooper and disbarred lawyer who graduated from Yale Law School, was accused by prosecutors during an eight-week trial of conspiring to use force to try to block Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden’s election victory over Republican Trump. Rhodes was convicted on three counts and acquitted on two.

One of his co-defendants, Kelly Meggs, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy, while the other three – Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell – were acquitted of that charge.

All five defendants were convicted of obstructing official proceedings — the certification of election results by Congress — with mixed sentences on several other charges.

Charges of seditious conspiracy and obstructing official proceedings carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Two more high-profile trials related to the attack are due to begin next month. Four other members of the Oath Keepers face seditious conspiracy charges, as do members of the right-wing Proud Boys group, including its former chairman Enrique Tario.

James Lee Bright, a lawyer for Rhodes, said he thought the verdict would inform how the Justice Department would proceed with other seditious conspiracy prosecutions.

“Getting back into it, even though we’re not happy about it, probably speaks to the fact that the Justice Department is going to be going full steam ahead in the same way with everyone else,” Bright told reporters outside court.

Rhodes, who wears an eye patch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun, is one of the most high-profile defendants of the roughly 900 charged in the attack. Meggs, who heads the Florida branch of the Oath Keepers, was the only defendant other than Rhodes in that trial who played a leadership role in the organization.

In 2009, Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers, a militia group whose members include current and retired US military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders. Its members have appeared, often heavily armed, at protests and political events across the United States, including the demonstrations for racial justice following the killing of a black man named George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer.

“The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.


Rhodes’ attorney, Ed Tarpley, called the sentences a “mixed bag.”

“We are grateful for the convictions obtained. We are disappointed with the guilty verdicts,” Tarpley told reporters outside court. “There is no evidence introduced to show that there was a plan to attack the Capitol.

Prosecutors at the trial said Rhodes and his co-defendants planned to use force to prevent Congress from officially certifying Biden’s election victory. Meggs, Watkins and Harrelson entered the Capitol wearing tactical gear.

The defendants were also accused of creating a “rapid response force” that prosecutors say was stationed at a nearby hotel in Virginia and equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported to Washington.

Fifty witnesses testified during the trial, including Rhodes and two of his co-defendants. They denied plotting any attack or trying to block Congress from certifying the election results, although Watkins admitted obstructing police officers protecting the Capitol.

Rhodes told the jury that he had no plan to storm the Capitol and did not learn that some of his fellow Oath Keepers had breached the building until the riot was over.

During cross-examination, prosecutors tried to paint Rhodes as a liar, showing him page after page of his inflammatory text messages, videos, photos and audio recordings. Among them, Rhodes lamented that he did not bring guns to Washington on Jan. 6 and said he could have hanged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat reviled by the right.

Watkins, a transgender woman who defected from the U.S. military after facing homophobic slurs, and Caldwell, a disabled U.S. Navy veteran, also chose to testify.

Watkins admitted he was “criminally responsible” for obstructing police officers at the Capitol and apologized. At the same time, Watkins denied having any plans to storm the building, describing it as being “swept out” just as excited shoppers do on Black Friday when they rush into stores to buy discounted holiday gifts. prices like TVs.

Her lawyer, Jonathan Crisp, told reporters he was “grateful” his client had been acquitted of rioting.

Caldwell, who like Rhodes never entered the Capitol building and never formally joined the Oath Keepers, tried to downplay some of the inflammatory texts he sent surrounding the attack. Caldwell said some of the lines were adapted or inspired by movies like The Princess Bride and cartoons like Bugs Bunny.

Attorneys for Harrelson and Rhodes told reporters after the trial that they intended to appeal the convictions.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, additional reporting by Eric Beach and Kostas Pitas; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Stephen Coates

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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